Minor demons who, at Satan's command, become the servants of a human wizard or witch. It is one of the distinctive features of English *witchcraft that these spirits were very often thought to take the form of small animals, such as would be found around farms and homes; some witches claimed to have received them directly from the Devil, others from a relative or friend. One account of 1510 concerns a schoolmaster at Knares-borough (Yorkshire), who allegedly kept three spirits in the form of bumble bees and let them draw blood from his finger; he was attempting to locate treasure by magic. According to a pamphlet of 1566, two women on trial at Chelmsford (Essex), had successively owned a white spotted cat named 'Satan'; in return for a drop of blood, it had brought them possessions and caused people who had offended them to fall sick and die. The first woman had been given 'Satan' by her grandmother when she was 12 years old, with instructions to feed him on bread and milk and keep him in a basket - unusual luxury, probably, for an Elizabethan cat. In such cases, there seems no reason to doubt that the animals described did actually exist, and became the subject of gossip and suspicion.
   Many other references can be found; there were said to be familiars in the forms of *cats, dogs, *toads, *mice, rabbits, flies, or grotesque creatures of no known species. They were commonly called 'imps', a word which combined the meanings of 'child' and 'small devil'. They were thought to suck blood or milk from the witch, causing growths on her face or body which looked like nipples; by the 17th century these were generally thought to be near the genitals or anus.
   In rural tales and beliefs of later centuries, mice and toads are the familiars most commonly mentioned. Supposedly the witch sent them to bring misfortune on her enemies; in Somerset tales, witches are quoted as threatening, 'I'll toad 'ee!' It was believed that a witch could not die before passing them on to someone else, thus transferring both her power and her guilt. In anecdotes from Sussex and Essex in the 1930s, people alleged that mice had appeared at the deathbed of some local wizard or witch of a previous generation, who persuaded a reluctant relative to 'inherit' them. At West Wickham (Cambridgeshire) it was said that in the 1920s a witch tried to rid herself of her imps by putting them in the oven, but it was she, not they, who got burned; eventually they were buried with her (Simpson, 1973: 76; Maple, 1960: 246-7).
   ■ Thomas, 1971: 445-6, 524-5; Sharpe, 1996: 70-4.

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Familiars — • Strictly speaking, seculars subject to a master s authority and maintained at his expense. In canon law the term usually signifies seculars residing in monasteries and other religious houses, actually employed therein as servants and subject to …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • familiars — fa·mil·i·ar || fÉ™ mɪlɪə(r) n. good friend, acquaintance; member of the household of a pope or bishop; officer of the Inquisition; demon or evil spirit who comes when summoned adj. ordinary, common; skilled; close, intimate; well known;… …   English contemporary dictionary

  • familiares regis — Familiars of the king,–certain clerks of the English chancery courts were so referred to …   Ballentine's law dictionary

  • Familiar spirit — In early modern English superstition, a familiar spirit, imp, or familiar (from Middle English familiar , related to family) is an animal shaped spirit who serves for witchery, a demon, or other magician related subjects. Familiars were imagined… …   Wikipedia

  • familiar —    A spirit that maintains regular contact with a person, sometimes acting in service or guardianship, or providing information and instruction. The term familiar is from the Latin term familiaris, meaning “of a household or domestic.”… …   Encyclopedia of Demons and Demonology

  • List of demons in the Ars Goetia — The demons names (given below) are taken from the Ars Goetia, which differs in terms of number and ranking from the Pseudomonarchia Daemonum of Johann Weyer. As a result of multiple translations, there are multiple spellings for some of the names …   Wikipedia

  • Masō Kishin — (lit. magic adorned machine god , translated as Elemental Lord in the North American localization) is a term used to refer to four distinct mecha in the Super Robot Wars franchise, and the Cybuster animated series. They are considered to be the… …   Wikipedia

  • Sony Pictures Animation — logo used from (2011 present) Type Subsidiary of Sony Pictures Entertainment Industry …   Wikipedia

  • Persönlichkeit — The Persönlichkeit ( Lichkeit , in the North American localization) is a fictional robot in the Super Robot Wars series. It has appeared as an enemy unit in Super Robot Wars Impact, and Super Robot Wars Original Generations, but made playable… …   Wikipedia

  • Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha terminology — Articleissues cleanup = January 2008 copyedit = January 2008 in universe = January 2008 in universe cat = OR = January 2008 citecheck = January 2008This is a glossary of terms from the anime and manga series Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha , and its… …   Wikipedia